Organizing Life 2.0 – A brief comparison

Jittering the Nitty Gritties, the mundane details, the crosses, the hashes, scrapping it and back to the drawing board. This is the usual activities of anyone taking notes and trying to bring structure to chaos. There are several theories and techniques out there to survive life 2.0 and many man hours have been spent by many men trying to figure out the system best for him. For all the sexists, let me be clear, I believe women are better organised and they can manage multiple tasks. But men, have to use one of the many available artificial systems to get back their control on life. I managed to prune down such systems to three, close to nature.

The ThinkingRock software supporting the GTD methodology, the FreeMind software supporting Mindmaps and MS OneNote supporting well…collaborative notes. TaskJuggler came as a close fourth on personal taste but I have the perception of it being too geeky for the general audience to catch the concept. All three of these software alongwith their methodologies have individual strengths and weaknesses and these are subjective based on interests, one’s educational and professional background and capabality of usage. although all three are pretty intuitive and takes no time to get going, there are several opposing communities of users whose preferences of their choices conflict with one another.

Here I will present to you my perspective of how I organise myself better or just perceive to be better organised!

1. FreeMind (Free):

Mindmaps were used by people as early as Aristotle as a way to represent things immediate to mind. Psychologists say that on average, our mind can keep 7+-2 concepts in mind at a particular time, sort of saying our cache can hold that much concepts. Some of us find ourself stressed out by the burden of having more than 9 items simultaneously which results in stress, incorrect judgement and inconsistent decisions. Mindmaps is a simple, intuitive way to organise concepts immediate in our minds in a tree-like structure whose depth can be controlled depending on our context. Here is a typical mindmap made in FreeMind, an opensource tool which provides many rich features than anyother commercial mindmapping tool out in the market.

2. Microsoft OneNote:

Microsoft introduced OneNote as part of their Office Suite since 2003 and while it gained popularity in Office 2007 onwards due to the tighter integration with Outlook and Word and also due to the licensing and distribution changes (now ships with standard Office Suite), it still remains to achieve a regular membership  of the Office family for years to come. The strong point of OneNote is its real time collaborative features which gives it a shared whiteboard feel which can accommodate most media types, text, images, video, audio, Office objects (visio shapes, excel sheets etc), handwriting (for Tablet PC) and a good flexibility for use the writing area like a physical scrap pad. What it lacks though is a systematic structure of representing information which can be good at some scenarios. Unlike FreeMind or ThinkingRock which are backed by particular knowledge representation schemes, OneNote is for the free souls to use as they please.

This approach suits many individually but cant be relied upon in team based project sharing and collaboration. Although OneNote pretends to present well organized templates, it actually does not do much more than enter default bulleted “flat” text.

3. ThinkingRock (Free)

This is a very well made software following the Getting Things Done GTD approach of David Allen whose main mantra is context. Our daily routines see different contexts which includes our location, our moods, our energy to do different type of work at different times of the day. This adds up to the philosophy as used in Mind maps as well that the less thoughts one can have at a particular time, the more creative and productive he/she can become.

ThinkingRock automatically hides all tasks and thoughts not in one’s current context and allows a self-adaptive task priority utility in which least prior activities after some time automatically become activities to complete ASAP. This would let one to eventually complete all tasks regardless of priority and not forget even the smaller things in life.

As a PIM (Perosnal Information Management) tool, ThinkingRock is a clear choice over the other two but as a single point of reference for managing thoughts, scraps, and time, OneNote and FreeMind can be used instead. For teams working on collaborative work, there is no comparision to the features offered by OneNote. In essence, to use the best of breed, one has to use atleast two of these products simultaneously until their intergration is developed. There is already some collaborative features available on FreeMind and the development is very active which is a sign of better things to come. This gives an edge to FreeMind over OneNote, while ThinkingRock can be used solely as a PIM.

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